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Lindy McDowell

The appalling sight of a half empty Commons chamber to remember horrors of Holocaust

Lindy McDowell



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At the same time at Westminster, Government minister Luke Hall was rising to speak in a debate in the Commons to mark the day

At the same time at Westminster, Government minister Luke Hall was rising to speak in a debate in the Commons to mark the day

At the same time at Westminster, Government minister Luke Hall was rising to speak in a debate in the Commons to mark the day

Monday marks the anniversary of the moment exactly 75 years ago when the first soldier from an advancing infantry division of the Soviet Red Army walked into the Auschwitz concentration camp in what was literally the first step in its liberation - and the full revelation of its horror to the world.

To mark Holocaust Memorial Day a commemoration ceremony on Thursday in Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, brought together an impressive mix of world leaders - Prince Charles, Emmanuel Macron, Vladimir Putin and Mike Pence among them.

At the same time at Westminster, Government minister Luke Hall was rising to speak in a debate in the Commons to mark the day.

It would be fair to say that he wasn't exactly addressing a full House.

A relatively small number of MPs had taken their seats on the benches on either side. There have been bigger turnouts for Commons debates on Northern Ireland - and that's saying something.

A Jewish commentator on a national news programme pointed up the sparse attendance, particularly on the Labour benches.

Given the party's recent shameful record of failure to deal with anti-Semitism within its ranks he was, he said, surprised that more of its MPs hadn't made the effort to attend.

But then, he added caustically, perhaps they felt they had more important things to do than attend a debate remembering the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis, and all the other genocides since, from Rwanda to Bosnia.

Victims of the Nazi death camps included gypsies (both Roma and Sinti), gay people, communists, Poles, those who spoke out against the Third Reich, disabled people and those loosely labelled 'antisocial'.

But it was, of course, the Jews of Europe who were the primary target of Hitler's systematic butchery.

He wanted to wipe the Jewish people off the face of the Earth.

Post-war, the slogan 'Never Again' defined the global revulsion at what had taken place, and the determination to stamp out the hatred that powered it.

And look how well that's turned out.

Within living memory of the Holocaust there are now the flourishing (especially online) legions of Holocaust deniers.

'Never Again' has been supplanted by 'It Never Happened'.

Deniers of Hitler's genocide range from far-Right nutters to the bigots of the 'liberal' Left, plus conspiracy theory headcases who also believe aeroplane vapour trails are the CIA spraying us with sedatives.

We have a leading political party in the UK failing (or refusing) to deal with ingrained anti-Semitic hatred.

Zio (Zionist) has become the sleekit way of saying Jew, the new way of enabling the haters to cloak their bigotry.

And acts of anti-Semitic violence are spiralling.

No wonder Jews throughout Europe feel increasingly fearful for their safety. No wonder so many look upon Israel, the Jewish state, as their sanctuary.

As the Holocaust Educational Trust has warned, anti-Semitism "is now permeating the mainstream here in the UK from its previous home on the radical fringes of society".

This week the trust had called for no "empty gestures" from MPs with regard to Holocaust Memorial Day.

You don't get more obvious empty gestures from MPs than a half vacant Commons chamber.

This, for a debate marking such an important anniversary in human history. At a time when hatred of the Jews is again being fomented and encouraged.

The sad fact is that by the next major anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz most survivors will be dead, apart from those who were small children when they were incarcerated.

It will be up to others to remember humankind's worst inhumanity. And political representatives should be leading the way.

Yes, it's hard to get your head around the enormity of the Holocaust, although on an individual level, maybe not so much if you imagine what it would be like if, today, it was your family being led away. Your children. Your parents. Your family.

And then to consider how that image remains so much more haunting, so much more plausible and threatening for the Jews of Europe - even in 2020, even 75 years on from that January morning the world learned the full truth about Auschwitz.

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What we do know, though, is that the disease is spreading rapidly, that there is as yet no vaccine and that suspected cases have included one here.

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There the now understandably unnerved patient was joined by two doctors in the medical equivalent of hazmat suits.

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